Once upon a time, tracking video news releases was nearly
impossible. Postcards inquiring about airing details might be sent to
reporters or news directors, but they were returned about as often as
reporters call back to say they're not interested in a pitch. Several
VNR tracking methods have since emerged, but a lack of industry
uniformity in reporting audience results has clearly exasperated both
VNR companies and PR firms.
Sally Jewett, president of On The Scene Productions, says she recently
spoke with a client who claimed a previous satellite media tour (SMT)
had garnered 60 million viewers. The client expected similar results
from a new SMT. But when Jewett plugged the old SMT data into Nielsen
software, she got a figure closer to 175,000 viewers. This type of
confusion and misinformation ultimately hurts the entire industry.
Jewett isn't the only advocate of consistency. DS Simon Productions is
spearheading a campaign that advocates the use of standardized reporting
of project results.
There are currently two ways of tracking VNRs - encoding technologies
inserted in videotapes that are triggered when a release is played, and
scanning technologies that search television channels' closed-captioned
reports for keywords.
Sigma encoding and VEIL are the mostly widely used encoding
technologies. Sigma is a Nielsen product that uses an electronic
tracking signal recorded onto a videocassette. It tracks airplay when
any portion of a VNR is broadcast by networks or affiliates in the 211
television markets during the 26-week period following initial
VEIL encoding is marketed by Video Encoded Invisible Light Interactive
Technologies. The product was first patented in 1989, and was recently
upgraded to indefinitely track, collect and record where and when a
piece of video is aired in more than 100 markets.
A popular scanning option is Video Monitoring Service (VMS), which
records nearly 60,000 hours of news a month from more than 40 broadcast
and cable networks, as well as thousands of local newscasts in more than
Clients then receive summarized news stories and closed-captioned text
information from the company's news database.
Medialink was dissatisfied with commercial tracking offerings, so it
created another scanning option called NewsIQ. Subscribers create a
keyword for their company, competitor or topic, and then the service
tracks the text of 1,500 TV newscasts nationwide, representing more than
250 network stations and major markets.
PR agencies that subcontract VNR work find themselves in an
apples-to-oranges tangle of audience projections.
The fastest way to standardization may be for PR firms to demand
comparable numbers from VNR agencies pitching to become their prime
PRWeek asked VNR gurus at the nation's top PR agencies which measurement
methods they prefer, and what they would like to see in future.
Burson's Lisa Kovitz, managing director of the brand practice, advocates
the encoding method of VNR tracking. 'What would be a more foolproof way
of knowing where it was played?' she asks.
But she says budget often determines the tracking method used. Some VNR
producers charge extra for encoding and reporting, putting the final
price out of a client's reach. Kovitz recommends that clients use two or
three measurement tools if they can afford it. However, if she has to
choose one, she likes Sigma.
Kovitz says it's a professional responsibility to determine audience
size even if a client cannot afford a formal form of measurement.
'If you have a sister ad agency, you can work with them to get numbers
from Nielsen,' she says. 'I've called sales departments at news stations
to find out who watches the five o'clock news, ages 18 and over. But if
I were selling a product for people who were 50-plus, I'd want to know
that. Reports do not break that down, but if you need something, it's
your responsibility to figure it out.'
Despite obstacles, she thinks video is far more reliably measured than
print, though she adds that there are no guarantees in either
'There is no equivalent in print to the electronic bug you can put in
video,' says Kovitz. 'If the industry standards of Nielsen say a million
people watch the Today show, then a million people watch the Today
Yes, people will go to the bathroom during a newscast, but it's just
like recording the circulation of The New York Times. They know how many
people subscribe to the newspaper, but can they tell you how many people
read the national news on page 14 on a Sunday?'
Hill & Knowlton
Debbie Douglas, managing director of the media practice at the LA/Irvine
office, increasingly recommends that clients avoid VNRs in favor of
b-rolls, which TV stations can configure to fit different news shows.
However, monitoring remains an issue.
Douglas uses VMS in conjunction with Sigma encoding to track audience
numbers. She says VMS is her primary tool, and Sigma is her 'insurance
policy.' A recent Ford SMT illustrates her point: 'There were several
stations that aired the SMT live. Perhaps because of the China hostage
situation, other stations might have delayed airing it or might package
it into another story, and the Sigma encoding will say it ran at a later
Douglas says the extra cost of multiple monitoring services is necessary
because of the time and effort agencies expend to secure a placement.
She uses more than one tracking method because there is no perfect
system. Her dream monitoring service would begin with reports issued
within 24 hours of b-roll or VNR placement.
'With a quick report, I can immediately notify the client,' says
'I would also like a proactive service that comes to me every day with
updated placements. I don't want to call them every day.'
She says attention to detail is also a priority. Large clients may have
several campaigns running with different video for each. Douglas would
like to know mentions per client and per campaign.
Russell Grant, SVP and executive producer of media services at F-H, says
he doesn't dare dream of a perfect service, but suggests current
services fill what he sees as a large hole in coverage: all-news cable
'Cable news channels are increasingly commonplace,' says Grant. 'And
they've become a larger potential void for us to monitor potential
b-roll or VNR usage.'
Grant says he relies on the Nielsen ratings books and uses both VEIL and
Sigma to monitor all projects. VEIL wins especially high marks from
Grant because it allows him to monitor for months or years, in case a
station revisits its coverage of a product.
He also uses a new service, Power Television, for which he served as a
prelaunch product tester. The technology captures the closed-captioning
of a TV broadcast, and Grant says it's a good complement to encoding
methods. However, he is suspect of all monitoring systems based on
'You have to rely upon the station closed-captioning every portion of
the newscast, and we've found that some feature segments or media
segments we've done are not closed-captioned,' says Grant. 'Also, if
have you have a complicated search term, like a medical name, the
closed-captioning is only as good as the person spelling that name. A
misspelling might not necessarily be caught by Power TV unless you're
clever enough to guess at every phonetic possibility.'
Weber Shandwick Worldwide
James Korenchen, SVP for US broadcast services at Weber Shandwick, says
he knows he may be bucking an industry trend, but he thinks Nielsen
numbers should not always be the final word in audience measurement. He
advocates going straight to the source for estimates of audience
'We like to talk to the stations themselves,' says Korenchen. 'I feel we
get a fairly accurate audience figure from them, and we're continuing to
generate relationships with the producers of the stations.'
In addition to fostering contacts, Korenchen believes station numbers
are often more up-to-date than Nielsen numbers. He says VNRs are often
picked up in smaller markets where a national organization, like
Nielsen, may not be as diligent as a small player dedicated to the
'The station people know their own figures,' he says. 'They have more
research tools at the local level, and they know their market.'
Should station numbers conflict with Nielsen numbers, Korenchen says he
would discuss the differentiation with both Nielsen and the station.
Though Korenchen has never had a problem with figures not matching, he
still maintains that station research is more accurate.
While Korenchen is willing to invest time in station calls, he says
tracking is a budget-sensitive area with most clients. For higher
budgets, he recommends Sigma encoding. Costing roughly dollars 2,000,
Sigma is simply too expensive for some clients. For clients with tighter
budgets, Korenchen suggests using a VMS, which can be considerably less
Weber has no standard to track or measure a VNR audience, but Korenchen
would like to institute one. Currently decisions are up to each
individual agency team.
Eventually, Korenchen hopes the agency standard will be 'to obtain the
actual audience figure from the actual program in the actual market
during the time the segment actually ran.' General ratings may reflect
one particular broadcast, but getting audience numbers direct from the
station will correctly reflect the particular newscast on which a VNR
ran. He admits this will take a lot of work and phone calls, but he
believes it is the most precise audience measurement.
Edelman PR Worldwide
Michael Schriferl, SVP and director of media services, was so concerned
about accurate VNR tracking and audience recording that three weeks ago
he commissioned an analysis of Edelman b-rolls. He found that his staff
of 20 people pitching b-roll and VNRs to stations helps him zero in on
problems with different measuring systems.
'Let's say you get a fat media report that tells you your b-roll was
used,' he says. 'But at the same time, a research piece was published
about breast cancer. So some people used your footage because it
included generic footage of a woman getting a mammogram. Our client
might not even be mentioned, but the encoding would be perfectly correct
in that stations did indeed use our footage, but the encoding won't know
that our client was not part of the station's story.'
Looking at closed-captioned reports might show the context problem, but
Schriferl says his staff would have a sense of the discrepancy long
before. He maintains personal pitches are essential to knowing the
quantity and quality of your VNR airplay.
Edelman doesn't have an agency-wide standard, but the media services
group always reports in Nielsen numbers, using the latest data it has.
It also always encodes with Sigma and often adds VEIL as a backup for a
more in-depth look. Encoding results are cross-referenced with closed
captioning services NewsIQ and VMS to learn more about the content of
airings. Schriferl is careful to report story usage, explaining to
clients the context in which the tape or parts of the tape were
'We could have someone in every market watching television 24 hours a
day, but that's not feasible,' says Schriferl. 'There's a lot of debate
(about this issue) in the world of advertising and PR, but we use
Nielsen because they provide us with reports closer to the actual
ratings period. Something like Bacon's might update once a year, but
seven times year for every 15 minutes of the day, Nielsen gives us a
Next to having the ability to track b-roll on the Internet, Schriferl's
greatest wish would be to have immediate tracking reports for a
broadcast's actual numbers.
'I would love to know when there is an audience swing in news,' he says.
'For example, when the OJ Simpson verdict was read several years ago,
maybe that night the news viewership really spiked. But that blip isn't
going to show up in a daily Nielsen report. You are comparing apples to
apples when you compare Nielsen numbers, but you're still relying on the
most recent set of data, which could be changed for myriad reasons and
may be different the night people watched that video or saw that
SOME OF THE MOST WATCHED VNRs OF 2000
Top VNR for 2000: SPAM JAM for Weber-Shandwick client Hormel, details
summer festival in Austin, MN, to celebrate SPAM
Producer: Conus Communications
Monitoring: Nielsen Sigma; audience numbers computed by Bacon's
DS Simon Productions
Top VNR for 2000: McAfee.com antivirus software for personal digital
assistants, for Neale-May & Partners
Producer: DS Simon Productions
Monitoring: Nielsen Sigma; audience numbers came from the TV stations
themselves and were confirmed by Nielsen; estimated audience was based
on the number of people who receive a cable station
Top VNR for 2000: dust mite allergy information for Barkley Evergreen &
Partners' client allergydirect.com
Producer: DWJ Television
Monitoring: Nielsen Sigma
KEF Media Associates
Top VNR for 2000: Nuveen Investments, controversial commercial that
showed paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve appearing to walk up to accept
an award commemorating the cure of paralysis. Martin Public Relations
hired KEF to produce and distribute the behind-the-scenes making of the
Audience: more than 212,000,000
Producer: KEF Media Associates
Monitoring: Nielsen Sigma; audience number provided by Nielsen media
Top VNR for 2000: AOL/Time Warner merger
Producer: Robinson, Lerer & Montgomery
Monitoring: Nielsen Sigma, VeriCheck, NewsIQ and Teletrax
National Satellite Production Media Services
Top VNR for 2000: Rollout of Sony PlayStation 2 for Sony Corporate
Producer: National Satellite Production Media Services
Monitoring: Nielsen Sigma
Top VNR for 2000: Bridgestone/Firestone product recall
Producer: News/Broadcast Network with Fleishman-Hillard/St. Louis
Monitoring: Nielsen Sigma, VMS and Power TV
On the Scene Productions
Top VNR for 2000: NSYNC's 'No Strings Attached' for Jive Records to
publicize the CD release and subsequent concert tour
Producer: On the Scene Productions
Monitoring: Nielsen Sigma, VEIL and VMS
Orbis Broadcast Group
Top VNR for 2000: FDA approval of Mifepristone (formerly RU-486), a
nonsurgical early option for ending pregnancy, for DDB Worldwide
Communications Group and the Danco Group
Producer: Orbis Broadcast Group
Monitoring: Nielsen Sigma and VMS
TVN Communications Group
Top VNR for 2000: a celebrity blue jeans auction benefiting the Multiple
Sclerosis Society, for Yahoo!
Producer: TVN Communications Group and Yahoo!
Monitoring: Nielsen Sigma and VMS
West Glen Communications
Top VNR for 2000: introduction of new Eli Lilly bipolar disorder drug
for the Chamberlain Group
Producer: West Glen Communications
Monitoring: Nielsen Sigma and VEIL
World Satellite Television News
Top VNR for 2000: Team Rocket Pokemon trading card introduction
Producer: World Satellite Television News
Monitoring: Nielsen Sigma and Power TV.